Celebrating Thanksgiving if you won't be with family

American Thanksgiving is this Thursday.

Thanksgiving is a holiday that tends to be very focused on family togetherness. This can be difficult if you don’t have family, can’t get home to be with your family, aren’t welcome at Thanksgiving, don’t want to be with family, or otherwise are going to be alone.

Not being with family on Thanksgiving doesn’t necessarily have to mean that you can’t celebrate (although it’s entirely fine if you decide that you’d rather opt out of Thanksgiving). Here are some things that some people might want to do:

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade:

  • In NYC, Macy’s puts on a big parade every year. 
  • You can also watch them inflate the big parade balloons the day before. (Their faq specifies: Join us for the Macy’s Giant Balloon Inflation from 3pm to 10pm on the day before Thanksgiving. You can enter the special balloon inflation areas surrounding the Museum of Natural History beginning at 79th Street and Columbus Avenue.)
  • The Macy’s Parade is also televised and will probably be on TV in your area too

Local parades:

  • Many (probably most) towns in the US put on a parade of some sort 
  • If you google “(your town) thanksgiving parade”, you will probably find a parade near you
  • Smaller town parades tend to be mostly made up of community groups and organizations and businesses
  • For instance, there will likely be floats made by boy and girl scouts, dog trainers with dogs, employees of a copy shop carrying a banner, and that sort of thing
  • It can be much less overwhelming than a professional parade, and it can be a good way to find out more about what organizations and businesses are active in your area

Organized religion:

  • Some churches have Thanksgiving services
  • There are also often interfaith Thanksgiving events that work for non-Christians (Although those tend to be decidedly Abrahamic)
  • Unitarian Universalist churches sometimes have events that are comfortable for people who don’t identify as religious or believe in God 

Cooking or eating turkey:

  • If you strongly associate Thanksgiving with turkey, making or eating turkey might feel like celebration
  • It doesn’t necessarily have to be a whole turkey
  • Stores usually sell turkey breasts and drumsticks separately if you just want those
  • You also might be able to buy some already-prepared turkey
  • You can also get turkey lunchmeat or turkey sausages or turkey burgers

Cooking or eating other traditional food:

  • Many grocery stores and restaurants sell already-cooked Thanksgiving food
  • (You may need to order it in advance. You can find out by checking your local grocery store’s website)
  • Grocery stores sell pumpkin pies, both frozen and fully cooked. They also sell cans of pumpkin and cans of pumpkin pie filling, and pre-made crusts. Pumpkin pie can be fairly easy to make if you prefer to make it yourself
  • You might want to make stuffing. You can make stuffing without a turkey
  • You also might want to make mashed potatoes and gravy. You can also do that without a turkey (especially if you make mushroom gravy).

Thanking people:

  • Most people like to be appreciated
  • It might be worth thinking about who you’re grateful to, and why
  • And then telling them
  • One way to do this is by sending emails
  • If you are into crafts, another way to do this is by making cards for people you want to thank
  • (It’s generally not good to call people on Thanksgiving unless you know they’re not with family or otherwise absorbed in in-person Thanksgiving observances) 
  • Don’t be creepy  (Eg: Don’t say things like “I am grateful that you wear flattering tops. Your cleavage really brightens my day.”)
  • Don’t say backhanded things (Eg: “I’m thankful that you don’t make so many expensive mistakes anymore”)
  • Say things that are true, and things they’re likely to want to hear (eg: “Thank you for your help showing me how to use the perplexing software on the big project. It really helped me to learn how to make the cat pictures sufficiently hilarious and adorable.”)

Other types of gratitude:

  • For some people, focusing on things they’re thankful for is an important part of Thanksgiving
  • (It’s ok if this doesn’t work for you or if you don’t want to. It’s a good thing for some people to do; it’s not right for everyone.)
  • Writing a list of things you’re thankful for might work
  • Or drawing pictures of things you’re thankful for
  • Or, if you’re religious, thanking God for things you’re thankful for 

Noticing things that are awesome:

  • If gratitude doesn’t work for you, noticing stuff that is awesome might
  • A lot of things are awesome. Making lists of things that are awesome can be very enjoyable for some people
  • (Some things I personally think are awesome: marbles, rocks, the Talmud, King of the Hill, caramelized onions, Tumblr, my friends, and kittens. Your milage may vary.)

Hosting a meal with friends:

  • You might have friends who also aren’t going to be with family on Thanksgiving
  • It might be worth having a Thanksgiving meal together
  • Or getting together to do something else (like having some pie or watching a movie)

Watching football

  • For some reason there are a lot of football games on Thanksgiving
  • If you like that sort of thing, you might enjoy watching football in a sports bar
  • (Note that sports bars are often filled with fanatical fans of a particular team who are mean to people they perceive as fans of the opposing team. If you don’t know which team people in a particular bar like, it’s better not to wear team clothing or colors associated with one of the teams.)

Volunteering

  • I know that some people like to volunteer on and around Thanksgiving
  • Many people who want to volunteer on Thanksgiving end up being fairly annoying to organizations they want to volunteer for
  • (Because organizations can only use so many people at a time, and most organizations need a lot more help than they get almost every other day of the year)
  • I don’t know much about how to volunteer on Thanksgiving in an actually-useful way
  • I’m mentioning this option in hopes that someone reading this will know more about it than I do

Reading Thanksgiving-themed stories or fandom:

Community events:

  • There might be community organizations holding Thanksgiving events or meals
  • For instance, in many areas there is a Vegetarian Society that hosts a vegetarian thanksgiving meal.
  • These generally welcome anyone who wants to attend, even if you normally eat meat

If you are a student:

  • If you are a student, you can probably get an invitation to a local family for Thanksgiving
  • If you’re Christian, you can likely arrange this through one of the campus Christian organizations. If you’re Jewish, you can likely arrange this through Hillel.
  • There are also probably secular ways to arrange this. If you ask your Student Life office, they can probably help you.
  • If you want to do this, ask right away, before people leave for break

tl;dr There are things to do on Thanksgiving that don’t require getting together with your family. Scroll back up for concrete suggestions.